Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Ephphatha (Be Opened)"

The song "Ephphatha (Be Opened)" was inspired by the idea of opening ourselves to the sacredness in all that is around us. The Aramaic word ephphatha comes from Mark 7:31-37, where Jesus opens the ears of a deaf man. This gospel story isn't just about something that happened once upon a time in a land far away. This story is about what God is always doing. God is continually present in our lives, calling us into a holy adventure of discipleship and mission. The problem is that our lives are busy and so we often remained closed off to the Divine in our midst. The gift of this gospel story is that it invites us to open ourselves to God's gracious love, abiding presence, and sacred guidance that is always in our lives. Once we open ourselves to God, we see with new eyes, hear with new ears, speak with new tongues, think with new minds, and feel with new hearts. The ordinary becomes divine. And that is a beautiful miracle. This song is about the miracle that comes from opening ourselves to the Divine "in whom we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28).



To the birds outside your window
To the river floating by
To the fact you're God's beloved
Be opened, precious child.

To the ones around you, broken
To the chained, who long to fly
To those regretting words unspoken
Be opened, precious child

Be opened to the fullness
Be opened to the Word
Be opened to your story
Be opened, child, be heard

To the beauty of each moment
To this wondrous gift of life
To all creation, singing praises
Be opened, precious child

Be opened to the fullness
Be opened to the Word
Be opened to your story
Be opened, child, be heard

Because when ordinary becomes divine
Miracles come from open minds
Revealing ears and tongues and eyes
We never knew we had

Be opened to the fullness
Be opened to the Word
Be opened to your story
Be opened, child, be heard

To the song within each person
To a faith found deep inside
To a willing, trusting spirit
Be opened, precious child

Be opened to the fullness
Be opened to the Word
Be opened to your story
Be opened, child, be heard

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bruce Epperly on Postmodern Church

Bruce Epperly is the guest blogger this week for the on-going blog series called PomoChurch, which features a variety of people reflecting on the meaning of Postmodernity and its implications for the Church.

The Promise of Postmodernism

In his prophetic reflection, The End of Christendom and the Future of Christianity, Douglas John Hall notes “we North American churches are now being pushed visibly to the periphery. And the question is: Are we just going to let this happen to us, or can we give concrete direction to this process of disestablishment? Can we make it work for good?” A few decades earlier, Alfred North Whitehead asserted that higher organisms originate novelty to match the novelty of the environment. That is the question: Will we be passive, impotent, or in denial about the cultural realities in which we live, or will we respond innovatively and creatively, exploring new pathways of faith, congregational life, theology, and spiritual formation?

I believe that the times cry out for creativity and novelty among Christians and other spiritual seekers in light of the impact of postmodernism on contemporary Europe and North America. Postmodernism is profoundly spiritually unsettling, especially as we see the movements toward institutional collapse in most mainstream Christian denominations and institutions. Life at the margins can be disorienting and frightening, especially to those of us, indeed, most of us, who are committed to institutional and professional survival. But, the margins may also be the frontiers, where lively personal and communal transformation may burst forth.

This brings me to what I describe as creative postmodernism. Creative postmodernism embraces the realities of pluralism, relativity, locality, and interpretation as media through which we may experience God’s call to abundant life in our time and place.

Postmodernism challenges universal stories, claimed to describe the experience of all persons and communities. While postmodernist thinkers do not deny the possibility of interdependent global realities that shape our collective experiences, they remind us that we can only experience the divine, universal, and global from the perspective of our constantly changing unique time and place. Postmodernism balances the apophatic and kataphatic approaches in its understanding of theological reflection and faithful mission. Nothing encompasses the divine or describes reality; yet, all things, experienced locally, can reveal the divine. This is good news! – We don’t need a universal vision in order to experience God right where we are. In the spirit of Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal’s comments on politics, we can embrace the postmodern recognition that “all spirituality is local.” This is good news! – It compels us to explore and experience spirituality and theology in concrete, personal, communal, and life-transforming ways. Purely analytic, head-religion, is too small and lifeless to respond to our need for vibrant, whole person, mind-body-spirit-relationship-concrete encounters with and reflections on the Holy.

Reality is pluralistic, according to postmodernism. While frightening to those who believe there is only one way to salvation or one pathway to truth, pluralism is also good news for the spiritual seeker. The creative embrace of pluralism reflects an innovative and healing wisdom that addresses each personal, cultural, and historical context intimately, bringing forth possibilities for spiritual growth unique to each time and place. We grow in spiritual stature by creatively embracing the many revelations of God in context of our “home” revelation or faith tradition. Spirituality is a matter of emerging creativity and perpetual transformation in the joining of tradition and novelty, self-affirmation and the affirmation of others, and constancy and change.

Postmodernism invites us to a dynamic process of polyvalent interpretation. Experience is creative. We can’t avoid encountering the world through the lens of our life experiences and spiritual values. This, too, is good news! This good news invites us to be creators along with the divine, to bring something into a world in which the God we affirm rejoices in our creativity, inspiring us to bring something new into the world. A polyvalent, many-faceted understanding of sacred texts and spiritual experiences opens the door for new experiences of the Holy and new revelations of the Divine. In a dynamic, creative, interpretative, and relational world, there is no competition between divine and creaturely creativity but an ongoing adventure of creation and new creation, call and response.

Postmodernism calls us to be faithful and adventurous for “just such a time as this.” And, this is good news! While new ways of experiencing the gospel will emerge in a constantly growing, receding, and transforming horizon of divine-creaturely call and response, postmodernism invites us to live faithfully in this day, in this time, in this particular planetary moment of crisis and adventure. There are no guarantees of institutional or planetary survival given to us, but in this lively, interdependent, adventurous world, we can be committed, creative, and conscious partners in God’s vision of tikkun ‘olam, mending, healing, and transforming the world. And this is very good news!

Bruce Epperly is a professor, seminary administrator, pastor, spirit person, father, husband, walker, and author of books on process theology, spirituality, ministry, Jewish-Christian spirituality, healing and wholeness, including his recent response to Rick Warren, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Father's Day...even for the Workin' Man

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! You deserve your day of words and signs of appreciation. Props to all the fathers.

I'm not a dad. Yet. But I'd like to be. And hopefully that happens soon. My problem is that I am in the field of vocational ministry. There seems to be an unwritten rule that says pastors and chaplains should work 6 days and 60 hours each week. We're also supposed to move on to bigger and bigger churches or hospitals. It's kinda like the corporate world where people work super long hours when they're young in order to climb the corporate ladder. We want to make partner - er, at least Senior Minister or Lead Chaplain. (Caution: Be prepared for a rant - one that is aimed at myself!)

We want it "all." But do we really want to work that much? According to recent statistics, 74% of people want to spend more time with their kids and 50% would take a pay cut in exchange for more time off. People seem to be bucking the over-working trend. We want a "new all." An "all" that includes time to be with family - and see their kids' basketball games. In short, people want balance. Many people are finding out that productivity and job satisfaction actually increase when people have a better work-family balance in their life.

Working less is better. Yup, it's true. Leaving the office early, coming into the office late, and assertively establishing personal boundaries have all proven to increase productivity at work. It's the old 80-20 Rule. Most honest supervisors will admit that 80% of quality productivity comes from 20% of time spent at work. It's simple. We work such long hours that we need to take little breaks throughout the day. Some of the day is just wasted away. But it doesn't have to be that way. What if instead of checking Facebook for the fifth time (or fiftieth time) in a day, we just worked harder and left the office earlier. There's no reason to work over 5 days and 40 hours a week. We just need to use our time efficiently and effectively. We can all probably do the same amount of work in 40 hours that we can in 60. Working less means we have more time for family, hobbies, vacations, etc. Having time to hang out means we're happier. And happy people are more productive workers. So, be proud to work less!

Redefining success is important. We don't have to strive for the top positions in our fields. Who needs the extra stress and responsibility? Obviously, if you're anything like me, you want to be successful. But what if we define success on our own terms? Success can mean making sure that we have the time to build our kids a tree house, see a play with our loved one, and maybe even do something fun for ourselves. Success can mean turning down promotions in order to ensure a healthy work-family balance. Success can mean downshifting our career so we don't have to work 60 hours a week. Success can mean setting and accomplishing our own goals in life.

Calendars are a moral document. That's what Jim Wallis says. Seems right to me. Our schedules tell us what and who we value enough to schedule into our lives. Is our boss more valued than our kids? Is working that extra day a week more important than spending the day on the beach with our spouse/partner? Is working late valued more than making it to the baseball game? Those darn schedules are tricky things. A dramatic example of this is in the movie Click, where Adam Sandler plays a character that wastes his life working while ignoring his family. Thankfully he gets a second chance. And so do we. Every day. Our challenge is to make sure that our schedules match our priorities. And that's easier said than done.

Accountability is important. I don't just want to say all of this. I want to live it. So, if you're near me, please make sure I'm living out my Father's Day resolutions. Here they are:

(1) Work 40 hours a week.
(2) Work 5 days a week.
(3) Spend my days off with/for my family.
(4) Set short and long-term goals.
(5) Work efficiently but not obsessively.
(6) Say "no" to some things so I can say "yes" to others.
(7) Go to special family events - no matter when they are.
(8) Use all of the vacation time I am given.
(9) Be assertive about my boundaries.
(10) Adhere to my own definition of success.

I'd like to be a dad. So, I'm going to try to start living a "successful" dad's schedule now. It's gonna be tough. Especially in vocational ministry. But I have my own vision of success now. And I really want to be successful. Lord, help me!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mindfulness: Opening To Our Lives

While traveling through Wyoming, we were listening to Krista Tippet interview Jon Kabat-Zinn on the show Speaking of Faith. The conversation focused on practising mindfulness as a way to enter life more deeply. It was a nice discussion of living life fully in the moment. At the end of the show, Kabat-Zinn said that poetry can describe the purpose of mindfulness better than any prose. He went on to quote Derek Walcott's poem "Love after Love" from the book Collected Poems 1948-1984. It's a great poem to meditate on.

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

If you like this and would like to explore more, here is a video of a mindfulness meditation session that Kabat-Zinn led for Google.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Becky Ragland on Postmodern Church

Becky Ragland is a guest blogger for the on-going blog series called PomoChurch, which features a variety of people reflecting on the meaning of Postmodernity and its implications for the Church.

As a graduate student in Art History I learned about Postmodern Architecture. This was my first introduction to the term, twenty years ago. The visual representation of Postmodernism was playful, disjointed, colorful, and subversive. All the old standards of architecture were re-tooled and toyed with. Who would have thunk to make buildings that looked like they were made of Legos or corrugated cardboard and tinfoil? Who would add a paladian facade to a skyscraper as if with a gluestick? And why? Postmodernism seemed to take all the old universal axioms of aesthetics and point out the false assumptions and pretensions that trailed in their wake. These buildings constantly asserted that materials are contrived into a balance, precariously co-existing and this is the grandeur of life; the fine balance.

I think of Postmodernism as the current era in which we live, not in the bind of meta-narratives, but in the poetry of a million voices speaking in constellations of truth; together seeking that fine balance. We have moved beyond the naivete of believing there is truth outside of conversation and inclusion. The fine balance is between the chaos of a million lives lived without conforming norms, and the interconnectedness of those lives which makes them capable of great collective good or apathy.

Postmodernism brings good change to the church. As an Episcopalian who celebrates our rich liturgical heritage, I find that what people crave and resonate with most is living within our heritage in a way that acknowledges its affectations. We still seem content to live within the basic framework of its beautiful prayers, creedal formulae, and structures.

We have some serious liabilities for a postmodern time. The songs we sing are so very old and the words and theologies don't really fit us anymore. And we Episcopalians are so bookish - we use a prayer book and usually two hymnals on a given Sunday. I suspect these will be the areas where we begin to change first.

I've just finished Phyllis Tickle's book The Great Emergence, and I found it enormously helpful for framing the changes that are happening in the church. My dream is an Episcopal-Emergent congregation, run by a team of priests, that meets in a modern space very open and flexible but somehow ornate, with adjacent meeting areas. The prayer books would be owned by members, otherwise, all liturgies would be projected on the wall. The music would span the ages, maybe even in one song - from ancient to modern. There would be smells, and bells, and kneeling, standing, crossing, and dancing. There would be couches and kneelers. What fun! I'm eager for the changes and the challenges that the church faces. I think we will be the better for them.

Becky Ragland has been ordained since June, 2008. She currently serves as Assistant to the Rector at Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri. Ragland founded and coordinates a local ecumenical clergy group committed to racial justice called Webster Groves Clergy Alliance for Racial Equality (WG-CARE), and is the Diocesan Coordinator for Youth Ministries, Diocese of Missouri.

PomoChurch: Summer Series Exploring Postmodernity and the Church

The Church is always changing. It is always evolutionary. But occasionally changes in the Church are revolutionary. During revolutionary times, major change happens. And these revolutionary changes seem to happen every 500 years or so: Constantine in the 4th Century, the Great Schism of the 11th Century, the Reformation in the 16th Century, and now Postmodernity in the 21st Century. People such as Phyllis Tickle, John Cobb, and Brian McLaren have been talking about the Posmodern revolution in the Church for years. Many other people have been taking notice lately, too. And for good reason. The Church is going through a time of revolutionary change. Postmodernity is not a fad to be debated, it's a fact to be addressed. The Church is entering the Postmodern age, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The Modern age of universal truth, objective fact, and optimistic progress is waning. The Modern idea of "universal truth" is giving way to the Postmodern idea of "perspectival truths." Everyone has a different perspective. The Modern idea of "objective fact" is giving way to the Postmodern idea of "subjective interpretation." Everyone interprets everything. The Modern idea of "optimistic progress" is giving way to the Postmodern idea of "pragmatic realism." Nothing - even science - is the panacea for the world's problems. The world just ain't so black and white. There's a whole lot of grey. In fact, it's all grey for Postmodernists. As John Caputo says, "The world is a lot more complicated than Modernists think, a lot messier, less-well programed, less rule-governed, more open-minded and open-textured." Attending to the diversity and messiness of the world in realistic ways is what Postmodernity is all about. Postmodernity, in short, is attention to detail. And attending to detail is changing everything. Even the Church.

The changes that Postmodernity is bringing to the Church must be addressed. These changes aren't to be feared and resisted. After all, Charles Darwin said, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” The Church must adapt with the times. It must adapt to Postmodernity. And it must do so, so we can give the most adequate testimony to the God known through Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus, Paul, and the early disciples used their context and culture to testify to God, we must also use our context and culture in order to effectively testify to God. And that means the Church needs to carefully and prayerfully learn to speak to and in a Postmodern world. Okay, that's all good and fine. But what does all this mean?

What does Postmodernity mean and what does it mean for the Church? I have invited clergy, laypeople, professors, and authors to explore answers to that very question. So, throughout the summer, there will be a series of guest bloggers who will reflect on Postmodernity and the Church. The hope is that a fruitful and generative conversation will emerge from the posts offered by these guest bloggers.

Please join this conversation about and adventure into the Postmodern Church.

Postmodernity: Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, and Apostle Paul in Conversation

Postmodernity has become a popular word. There's Postmodern art, architecture, theology, etc. The confusing thing about Postmodernity is that it's a difficult word to define. In fact, some people would say that a definition would be paradoxical. It's a concept that is thickly nuanced and saturated with meaning. It's so meaning-filled that a strict definition is impossible. Instead of defining it, it's best to describe it. To develop a description of Postmdernity, we thought it would be helpful to explore some of the ways that the initial Postmodern philosophers began describing it. So, here is Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, and (slightly tongue in cheek) Apostle Paul in their own words:

"There is nothing outside of text" - Jacques Derrida

The way we see the world is influenced by our experience, culture, family, values, etc. Everything we look at is interpreted through our own context. That is why some people like the Chicago Cubs and other people like the Saint Louis Cardinals. Or why some people think the music of Aerosmith is better than the music of Jay-Z. We all have different tastes - and different perspectives. Everyone sees the world differently. Everything in life is interpreted. The whole world is a "text" to be read and interpreted through our different contexts. The Cubs aren't inherently better than the Cardinals. And Aerosmith isn't inherently better than Jay-Z. Different people just think differently because of the context of their lives. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: "There are no facts, only interpretations." Trying to impose one interpretation (the Cubs are better than the Cards) is just silly - and imperial. There are many different, valid interpretations of which sports teams or music genres are better. And there are many different, valid interpretations of everything else in life. In Postmodernity, the whole world is a Rorschach test!

"Incredulity toward meta-narratives" - Jean-François Lyotard

In the 1950s, there were only three TV networks. All of them showed programming that was basically the same. European-American people, stories, and values dominated the airways. Everyone was supposed to be able to relate the stories and values of white suburbanites in shows like "Leave It To Beaver." In these shows, only one narrow understanding of education, marriage, vocation, family life, etc. was represented. Unfortunately, the stories and values of other peoples and cultures were left out. The meta-narratives of European-Americans dominated the TV. There was one universal norm of what an "American" should be like. But in the 1980s, cable TV changed all that. Suddenly there were many different channels to choose from. The stories and values of many different cultures and peoples became more represented on TV. Today, channels such as BET, LOGO, and UNIVISION provide diversity to the stories and values represented on TV. Thanks to cable TV, the dominance of one major meta-narrative has been replaced by an appreciation for a diversity of micro-narratives. Many different understandings of education, marriage, vocation, family life, etc. are now represented. The idea of a universal norm for what an American should be like has been dumped. Now there is greater appreciation for the diversity of peoples, cultures, values, religions, etc. around the world. Cable TV has helped to bring about what Lyotard called an "incredulity toward meta-narratives." The dominance of European assumptions has been questioned and challenged. In its place, there is greater respect for the dignity of the world's diversity. In Postmodernity, all ethical narratives are honored.

"Power is knowledge" - Michael Foucault

People used to say, "Knowledge is power." The assumption was that as people become more educated, they also become more powerful. But this is deceptive. Only those "in power" get to decide what is accepted as the "correct" kind of knowledge to be taught. The things that are accepted as "knowledge" are constituted within networks of power. Those in power get to decide what is worthy of learning and what is considered truthful. In short, "truth" is a function of power. This means that only one perspective is forced upon everyone as the one, only, and right perspective. Other knowledges and truths are oppressed and subjugated. That is the reason Foucault wrote about the importance of an "insurrection of subjugated knowledges." This means that the oppressed knowledges and truths should take their rightful place and demand acknowledgement. Not only are there other knowledges to be learned, but they should considered every bit as "right" and "correct" as dominant knowledge. Thankfully, with greater amounts of travel and communication, people are recognizing the value of other peoples' knowledges and truths. People are seeing that oppressed perspectives need to be more empowered, and dominant perspectives need to be more dis-empowered. We need a balance of what is considered "knowledge" and "truth" in the world. In Postmodernity, there are many knowledges and truths that are co-equally powerful.

"We see through a glass dimly and know only in part." - Apostle Paul

God is a revealed mystery. How can that be? Isn't that a paradox? Yes. And that's the point. All of us have experiences of God. But none of us can understand the totality of God. There are no words or doctrines that can describe God perfectly. In fact, you might say that we cannot speak of God at all. Yet we must speak. Peter Rollins describes our challenge of faith well: "That which we cannot speak of, is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking." We must speak. But we must speak with humble conviction, not idolatrous certainty. Our words will always be provisional, incomplete, imperfect, etc. Paul invites us to embrace humility with his words. We see God, but only dimly. We know God, but only in part. God is much more complex than we can fully comprehend as humans. Therefore, our task as people of faith is to have faithful humility in the face of a God who is a revealed mystery. In Postmodernity, people embrace their inability to see clearly and know fully as a matter of faith.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"God of Movement"

"God of Movement" is based on Mark 4:1-9 and 4:26-32. The song is meant to highlight the images of growing seed from Scripture. The care of God for all seeds. The fruitfulness of seeds growing in good soil. The continualy growing seeds of the Kin-dom of God. And the tiny seeds of the Kin-dom that grow into great shrubs. The lyrics are set to the Hy­fry­dol tune.

God of Movement, work inside us;
Send your rain and nurture us all,
Tend our roots and hearts; excite us
Help us hear your ancient call
In our pain and in our laughter
Present, ever, throughout all our days
Here before and now and after
May all living things give praise

As a tiny seed is planted,
Roots emerge and growth begins.
So we ask, our hearts enchant, and
Bring your Kin-dom forth from within.
Love unquenchable, hope unstoppable,
Reign of justice with no end
Use our lives and make it possible
That your garden, we may tend.

Send us forth to sow and scatter
Seeds that grow your Kin-dom on earth.
Make it clear the ways that matter,
Those which bring new life and new birth.
Through your people, bring your healing,
In our lives and the fruits that we grow.
Ever more, your Kin-dom, revealing,
Now's the time to plant and sow.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hope for Interfaith Peace Is On The Rise

Time for some hope-mongering! Over the past couple weeks, our hope for greater interfaith respect, peace, and collaboration has increased exponentially. Why? Because of all the signs we've seen around us. Here are just a few examples.

President Barack Obama just delivered a brilliant speech to "the Muslim world." It was a speech marked by wise nuance and needed recommendations. He even brought up three of the elements of the just peace theory: truth, respect, and security. As Valerie Elverton Dixon, a just peace scholar, said: "President Obama was right to remind us that peace on earth is the will of God. He was right to remind us that it is our work to do." Hopefully this speech has planted the seeds that are needed to bring forth renewed hope for peace and understanding among religions around the world. Religion can be a powerful force for peace - or for violence. As the top diplomat of the USA, Hillary Clinton now has the responsibility to help inspire people to choose to use religion as a powerful force for peace. It seems like the seeds planted by Obama could be brought to fruition in powerful new ways by Clinton.

Peace among religions is even blooming in rural areas of the world where there isn't as much interfaith exposure. Stephannie Fox-Dixon, a high school student in rural Iowa, just wrote an outstanding article about a 19th century Muslim leader named Emir Abd el-Kader. She talked about Abd el-Kader's heroic faith, values, and leadership. Fox-Dixon also connected his work for a more just and peaceful world to similar work done by people such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Susan B. Anthony. Her article won the first annual essay contest in Elkader, Iowa. Just the fact that there is such an award is a hopeful sign. The quality of the winning essay is icing on the cake! Clearly hope is on the rise even in rural places.

John W. Kiser, the organizer of the essay contest won by Fox-Dixon, has written two great books detailing the stories of heroic Christians and Muslims. Monks of Tibhirine is the "true story of Christians willing to die serving a Muslim flock during the political nightmare that unfolds in Algeria during the 1990s." Commander of the Faithful is a biography of Emir Abd el-Kader (1808-1883) who was a much respected Muslim leader in Algeria - and around the world. Abd el-Kader was even honored by Abraham Lincoln. In our post-9/11 world, stories of heroic Muslims are important for all people to celebrate.

More and more Christian groups are collaboratively working with Muslim groups. As an example, Sylvania United Church of Christ in Sylvania, OH is building a home through Habitat For Humanity with the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. Their shared values have united these groups. The Third Pillar of Islam, Zakah, makes charitable support for the less fortunate as central as daily prayer. The words of Jesus, found in Matthew 25:31-46, commands Christians to treat "the least of these," as if they were Christ himself. Therefore, out of their shared commitment to social justice, these Christians and Muslims are working together to build a better world.

Rock musicians are also joining the effort. Bono, the leader singer of U2, used his popularity to spread the message of interfaith peace during the Vertigo tour. When he sang the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in Chicago, he wore a "Coexist" headband. Halfway through the song, he pointed to the headband and said: "There's some graffiti sprayed on a wall not too far from here. It says, 'Coexist.' Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it's true. Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it's true. All sons of Abraham. Father Abraham. Where are you now? Father Abraham. Look what's been done. Son turned against son. No more. No more. No more." By the third time he chanted "no more," the entire crowd was chanting with him. Somehow Bono makes working for interfaith peace seem cool and exciting. We definitely need prophets like him.

These modern signs of hope for interfaith peace are deeply rooted in all three Abrahamic traditions. The Qur'an says: "O Humanity, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another" (49:13). The Talmud says: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace...Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace" (Gittin 59b). The Bible says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9). It's time to more proactively follow the commands of our Scriptures and the leadership of Obama, Fox-Dixon, Kiser, Sylvania, Bono, and the many other peacemakers in our world.

Hope for greater interfaith respect, peace, and collaboration is on the rise. We just need to keep hope moving in that direction by taking action in our local communities and spheres of influence.

Nonviolent Communion Liturgy

Invitation 

One: When Jesus sat at tables and broke bread with tax collectors, lawyers, rich elites, and poor peasants, he proclaimed that God’s gracious love and abiding presence know no bounds. Through these occasions of sharing food, women and men experienced God, and shared in God’s Kin-dom. A Kin-dom, where: all are welcome, worthy, and invited; lives are transformed and empowered; and the fruits of God’s gentle justice bloom throughout all Creation.

All: All people, including each of us, are invited to share in this sacred meal of celebration, and be strengthened by the presence of God in this place.

Prayer of Remembrance

One: We remember that Jesus fed 5,000 hungry people with five loaves of bread and two fish. At this miraculous meal, there was such an abundance of food that everyone ate until they were full – and there were even twelve baskets of food left over.

All: Holy God, we celebrate Your abundant care and solidarity, revealed in this meal.

One: We remember that Jesus joined a great banquet with Levi, the despised tax collector. And despite the complaints of some, Jesus welcomed Levi, and invited him to repent and enjoy a fresh beginning at life.

All: Holy God, we celebrate Your transforming presence, revealed in this meal.

One: We remember that while sharing a meal with Pharisees, Jesus welcomed a woman viewed as an outsider. As the woman anointed his feet with oil, Jesus declared her dignity before everyone at the meal.

All: Holy God, we celebrate Your gracious inclusiveness, revealed in this meal.


One: At these meals, Jesus, and the women and men disciples resisted the divisions, injustice, and violence of society. They lived out an alternative reality – the Kin-dom of God – a place of love, justice, and mutuality. Today we celebrate these meals and ministries.


But we also recognize that not all people liked Jesus’ ministry. In fact, for some people, it was scandalous. They said, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” As we know, Jesus’ life became endangered.

When his arrest seemed near, Jesus ate a meal in an upper room with the disciples. As he had done so many times before, he took bread and after having given thanks to You, Holy God, he broke it and gave it to the disciples, this time saying, “Do this to remember me.” After the meal he shared wine, gave thanks, and said, “I will not drink from this cup again until I drink it with you in the Kin-dom of God.”

Jesus was then unjustly killed by the systems of domination of his day.

To some of his frightened disciples it seemed that the bread symbolized his broken body, and the wine his blood. It also seemed like injustice and violence killed Jesus and his ministry. But the resurrection provided a new hope. There were more meals - and more ministries! We thank you, Holy God, that the last supper wasn’t the last meal – or the last word!

At an evening meal in Emmaus, Jesus once again ate with the disciples. His execution wasn’t the end. His presence and ministry continued in a new way. Jesus once more took bread, and having given thanks to You, Holy God, he broke it and gave it to the disciples, revealing that Your steadfast love is stronger than death – and your ministry, with us, for the sake of your Kin-dom, continues.

The Kin-dom persisted – and persists today – through the many women and men who seek to be your resurrection community. Despite the divisions, violence, and injustice in the world, God continually brings forth renewed hope for love, justice, and mutuality to and through each of us.

Therefore, Holy God, in the sharing of this bread and wine, we joyfully celebrate the hope-inspiring ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lifting of the Elements

One: Gracious God, may this meal, for us, be an “Emmaus meal,” where we encounter your presence in the sharing of this food, as the disciples did at their meal in Emmaus.

May the sharing of this food also be a taste of your Kin-dom, Holy God, so we may be strengthened to be your joyful and hopeful disciples. And may we share in your Kin-dom of love, justice, and mutuality with those around us. Amen!

[Invite the communion stewards to join the celebrants, if stewards are needed, so they can be more explicitly part of the blessing.]

Blessing

All: Holy God, bless each of us, and the meal we will share, so we may be: opened to your abiding presence; nourished by your gracious love; and strengthened by your resurrection power. Amen!

One: Come taste the Kin-dom, and know God is present with us here.

Thanksgiving

One: Amazing God, thank you for your presence in this place. We also thank you for giving us a taste of your Kin-dom in this meal. Please use this food to strengthen us to be your joyful and hopeful Resurrection Community, sharing and experiencing your Kin-dom of love, justice, and mutuality. Flow through us, healing God. Amen!


This communion liturgy was written for a worship service that focused on "peace through justice." The liturgy emphasizes God's vision of love, justice, and mutuality, even in the face of the divisions, injustice, and violence of the Roman Empire. It also shows the differences between the nonviolent tactics of Jesus' "Kin-dom of God" and the brutal tactics of Caesar's "Empire of Rome." The hope is that this liturgy invites Christians to feel the love and presence of God in their lives, so they can be strengthened to share the peace and justice of God in the world. The same God that loved the disciples, also loves us. And the same God that worked for peace and justice in the Roman Empire, continues to work for peace and justice today. This liturgy seeks to invite modern Christians to join in on God's healing work in the world.

The book
Eucharistic Prayers for Inclusive Communities includes a copy of this liturgy.

If you're interested in reading related ideas, check out:
The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren, Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation by Flora Keshgegian, Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Rebecca Ann Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock, and The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Crossan.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Art in STL

Hi artsy people! We have a fun announcement. Some of our art has been chosen to be on exhibit at the Crestwood Court Mall in Saint Louis, MO. This formerly vacant mall has been transformed into a center for creative arts through the ArtSpace program. We are grateful for the program - and for the opportunity to share our art.

We're excited to be involved in something that doesn't have anything to do with regular vocations. Art is our hobby. Our creative release. Our practice of sabbath. Our escape into reality. Art is our "thing." Everyone needs such a "thing" in their life. Something healing, restorative, and energizing. For us, it's art. It's fun - and it's cheaper than a psychoanalyst!

Here's a taste of some of Sara's stuff:

And a taste of some of Brian's stuff:

If you're interested, please come on over to the "Academy of Contemporary Arts" room of the Crestwood Court Mall to check out our art and/or the art of others. There's something for everyone: realist photography, abstract paintings, hand-made guitars, pottery, etc. Click here if you'd like directions. The exhibit will be up for the entire month of June.